Five of the Best!



Each month this year, I’ll be looking back over my reviews of the past five years and picking out my favourite from each year. Cleo from Cleopatra Loves Books came up with this brilliant idea and kindly agreed to let me borrow it.

So here are my favourite June reads…click on the covers to go to the full reviews, though it must be said my early reviews were somewhat basic…




The BlackhouseI’ve been a long-term fan of Peter May’s since back in his China Thrillers days, but I felt that with the Lewis Trilogy he took a real step up to take his place as one of the very top crime writers in Britain today. The Blackhouse is the first book in the trilogy introducing us to DS Fin MacLeod, who is sent back to Lewis to investigate a murder that resembles one that took place earlier in his Edinburgh patch. Returning home after 20 years away, Fin is thrown into remembering and re-assessing his difficult childhood and adolescence. The book alternates between the present day and Fin’s past and it gradually emerges that the shadow of that past may be involved in the current investigation. This was one of the earlier examples of the double timeline that has now become almost obligatory in crime fiction, but it’s done much better than most, with both the current story and the past equally strong and coming together to a dark but satisfying conclusion. And the rest of the trilogy is even better…




secret life of william shakespeareThis is a beautifully written novel, each word carefully crafted to draw the reader in to a world full of poetry and drama. Morgan fills the gaps in our knowledge about Shakespeare’s life by creating a character who is completely convincing and compelling – a man who questions his own existence except as he lives through his work. But much though I loved the story of Shakespeare and his London life, for me the standout feature of the book was the character of Anne Hathaway – her love for Will, her fear of losing him, her strength to let him follow his driven path despite the cost to herself. We see Anne grow and develop as she tries to reconcile her pride in Will’s accomplishments with her sense of abandonment. She has to provide the strength that can make their relationship survive his absence, that gives him the freedom to be something she never fully understands. A wonderful book that will appeal not only to Shakespeare fans but also to anyone who appreciates a superbly crafted tale filled with poetry, humanity and tenderness.




feral“Rewilding recognises that nature consists not just of a collection of species but also of their ever-shifting relationships with each other and with the physical environment. It understands that to keep an ecosystem in a state of arrested development, to preserve it as if it were a jar of pickles, is to protect something which bears little relationship to the natural world.”

This book is a call for us to step back from nature conservation as we know it and give nature space to recover on her own. Monbiot suggests that humanity has lost something precious by its disconnect with the wild world and that we in the UK have taken that disconnect to further extremes than most. He isn’t arguing for a return to the world of hunter/gatherer, but for the return of at least parts of the country to true, unmanaged wilderness status and for the reintroduction of some of the top predators we have driven to extinction in our islands. A cogently argued and inspiring book that made me look with fresh eyes at what our landscape has become, and imagine what it could be if we have the courage to hand back the controls to nature herself. Although he talks specifically about the UK, much of what he says is relevant to the whole ‘first world’.




oxcrimesYou only have to look at the cover of this book to see some of the huge names who have contributed stories to this anthology in aid of Oxfam. In total, there are twenty-seven stories, most of them original, and the overall quality is exceptionally high. There are a few that are really quite short, but most of them are pretty substantial and a few of them star the detective for whom the author is famous. As well as straightforward crime/detection, there are examples of both horror and sci-fi with a crime element, and black humour puts in more than one appearance. Anthony Horowitz, Yrsa Sigurdardottir, Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Neil Gaiman, Mark Billingham, Peter James… need I say more? To be honest, you’d need to be pretty much impossible to please if you didn’t enjoy at least some of these stories. Imaginative tales and great writing from top authors – the fact that it’s for a good cause is just an added bonus.




the grapes of wrathFirst published in 1939, this is a fairly contemporaneous account of the devastation wrought on Oklahoma farming communities during the Depression. Driven by poverty and lack of work, many of the farmers are uprooting their families to go to California, their own promised land, where, they are told, the country is filled with fruit ripe for picking, and there is work for all. Starkly political, overly polemical, emotionally manipulative and tending towards bathos… but also hugely powerful, brilliantly written, immensely moving and just as relevant to today as to the time of writing. I can’t remember the last time a book made me this angry, both at the subject matter and at the author’s manipulation of the reader. Made me think, made me cry, made me want to throw my Kindle at the wall, bored me silly at some points, and left me so enraged it took me weeks to be able to write a (reasonably) coherent review. Not an easy read, or an enjoyable one… but a book that deserves to be read.

 * * * * *

If you haven’t already seen Cleo’s selection for June, why not pop on over? Here’s the link…

63 thoughts on “Five of the Best!

  1. I love your choices, FictionFan!! So glad you liked The Grapes of Wrath as much as you did. I think it’s fantastic piece of literature. And not surprised in the least that you chose the May. He is incredibly talented (must spotlight one of his books…).

    • Yes, The Grapes of Wrath is certainly one of the most powerful books I’ve read in a long time! Oh, yes, you definitely should spotlight one of his books – although he’s huge over here now, I still don’t think he’s nearly as well known on your side of the pond…

  2. Well I knew of course that GOW was going to be your June pick of 2015 (it’ll certainly be one of my picks of this year, I can’t imagine I could read 9 books more powerful between now and December. And lovely to see Jude Morgan getting in there as well, 2012, back when we were not even born, as far as blogging goes. I wasn’t even a flicker in my bloggy mummy’s eye, as she was completely innocent of blogs in 2012. Okay…… to pay my respects for the 5 years over at Cleopatra’s

    • I nearly picked Dark Matter for this month! Of course GOW is the better and vastly more powerful book, but for sheer enjoyment DM took the prize.

      I can’t believe it’s 3 years since we were reading the Morgan – how time flies. Must be nearly 400 books ago, or in your case 25,000…

      • I take it that is your not far off the true figure estimate of my TBR…………….

        Oh Dark Matter wonderful of course. I forgot you read that this month in the middle of a heatwave…

        And, by the way..’C’mon Andy!’ Now I must go, I think I should call the trainer, I’ve got a bit of Kindle page turner’s thumb and need a physio to cross my thumbs over each other and sit on them

          • Me too. I liked him even when he was bratty and ‘you can not be serious’ but he gets better as he journeys nicely along to becoming a grumpy old man/elder statesman of tennis. I like his ability to poke ridicule at himself as much as at the increasing puffery of the sport. Life being turned into a great bag of hot air, in all directions, Pffffft! McEnroe the pin pricking the puff tennis balloon.

            • Yes I was a Superbrat fan too – a huge one! One of my favourite tennis memories was the great 4th set tie-break between him and Borg! He’s also joined the team on Eurosport recently, who do some of the slams but also loads of the non-slam comps – he does a Commissioner of Tennis slot, where he pontificates on the rules of the game – very funny (if a little foul-mouthed – bleep! Bleepity-bleeping-bleep!)

  3. The Secret Life Of William Shakespeare looks good – that one passed me right by. Although I’ve been sporadically dipping in and out of it, I loved OxCrimes and still have a few stories to read. And I know I should read the GOW at some point, after you and Lady F’s stellar reviews. Great list!

    • The Shakespeare book got LF’s enthusiastic endorsement too – in fact, it was on her recommendation that I read it if I remember correctly. Have a box of mansize tissues available for when you read GOW – and be prepared to throw your Kindle at the wall!

  4. I’ve read, and very much enjoyed all of these except the Shakespeare, which isn’t really my kind of thing. I thought the Monbiot had something important to say, especially for Scotland. Let’s hear it for the “escaped” beavers which have bred this year on the Tay – and guess what, the end of the world has not happened. Oh, well, a new scare story will be along any day now. 🙂

    • Yes, I thought the Monbiot was particularly good on the Highlands, although I thought a lot of what he said about rural England and the sheep was important too. In fact, he left me feeling as if the sheep are the real enemy… perhaps I should eat more lamb chops! No doubt the beavers will get the blame for global warming…

  5. I think my choice from your list is the one on Shakespeare. Of course, we read most of his plays in college, but we didn’t delve much into his personal life, and that’s really what makes a writer tick, doesn’t it?! The Grapes of Wrath still probably should be on my reading list, but I’m not sure I want to wallow in all that right now!!

    • The interesting thing about Shakespeare is how little seems to be known about his life, which meant that the author could create a life for him without everyone getting picky about whether it was accurate! The Grapes of Wrath is definitely one you have to be in the right mood for… and have plentiful chocolate supplies on hand…

  6. Oh dear, you’ve just reminded me that I’ve been meaning to read The Secret Life of William Shakespeare…oh dear, oh dear, no time to say hello good-bye, I’m late! I’m late! I’m late!

    • Oh, I hope you do! It’s been great fun looking back and seeing which ones have stood the test of time. Reading other people’s lists is a killer for the TBR though… 🙂

  7. Peter May’s Lewis trilogy is just marvellous – I loved those books! Of the other books I have OxCrimes – but have still to get round to reading it! I like the look of the Shakespeare book, and have been meaning to read GOW for years. But it’s Feral that intrigues me – the countryside is most definitely being tamed!

    • His best stuff – the Lewis setting suits his writing style so well! I loved his Lewis standalone, Entry Island, too. OxCrimes is a really good collection – loads of high quality stuff and a few that are very different from what you expect from the author. I think you’d find Feral really interesting – it’s one of those books I find myself referring to often when the subject of the environment comes up. It’s definitely influenced my views…

      • I liked Entry Island too! I’ve reserved Feral at the library – the system doesn’t tell me if anyone else has reserved it, and there is no copy in my local library (copies in other branches though) so I have no idea how long it will take to get to me! No worries – it’s not as though I’ve nothing else to read. 🙂

        • Ha! No, I never seem to run short of books myself! I do hope you enjoy it – if I remember rightly the first couple of chapters were a bit off-putting as he extolled the joys of hunting, but from then on it was a really interesting read.

  8. For some reason, I’ve felt compelled to dodge reading The Grapes of Wrath, ever since high school when we had to read Of Mice and Men. It was beautifully written too. But I have to confess I’m not a fan of Steinbeck. Feral sounds interesting though. With the decimation of the monarch butterfly population, I’m in the mood for an argument in favor of nature.

    • You know, I suspect it was Of Mice and Men that put me off reading GOW for so long too. I did love OMAM, but even at that young age I was annoyed by the tricks Steinbeck used to manipulate maximum emotional response. I thought GOW was powerful and well worth struggling through, but I can’t say it’s made me feel like a Steinbeck fan either.

      Feral is brilliant, and a lot of what he discusses is relevant to the US too – he’s a bit more complimentary about the US in terms of conservation than he is about the UK. If memory serves me right, it’s Yellowstone that he holds up as an example of how things could be done.

    • My blog has probably forgotten who you are… *chuckles wickedly*

      No! I think it’ll take me at least 50 years to recover from GOW, by which time I’ll be… 21!

      • *laughs* I’m so happy to be bace, you know, you know.

        Your age is just a very curious thing. I’m trying to think if I’ve got anything for you to read. Just started the Leagues one! I know it took me a while to get to it. I thought I’d read on the planes, but I just slept.

        • So am I! That you are, I mean! *smiley face*

          It’s strange, I admit! I’m an advertisement for the benefits of healthy living – no more than two doughnuts a day and some strenuous exercise at least once a year! I think we should do a Dickens readalong *wicked face* Glad to hear it – I thought maybe you’d abandoned it as too awful! Hope you enjoy it (I’ve nearly forgotten what it was about now). Aha! That must be your cat genes coming out…

          • Whoa…I just looked up “bace” and it blew my mind.

            Donuts are so good…but…they can’t be touched, sadly! What Dickens? You need to read, I’ve finally remembered, The Black Tulip by Dumas.

            No, it’s not horrible at all. I feel bad for the chaps. I’m not a cat! I’m a…bear.

            • Awww! “an adjustable tension band that encircles the heart…” – that does sound a bit like you, you know, you know…

              Not around here unless you’re quick, that’s true! Bleak House! It must be time for me to read it again! Ooh, yes, that’s my Schwarzy’s favourite, isn’t it? Tell ya what, chickit, I’ll add it to my TBR the day he appears in an Aurtoon…

              Good – hope you enjoy it! Keep me informed, sir! *nods* A cuddly little teddy bear…

            • I wonder how someone gets it about a heart…

              Hmm…that sounds like a good deal to me. I’m working on it. I should have it all together soon, I’m thinking.

              Will do! *holds ears*

            • The katana might come in useful…

              *spots the subtle way he ignores the Dickens idea and laughs* Well, do get a move on! I shall need a Bace to stop my heart from breaking if I don’t hear my sweetie pumpkin pie no. 2’s voice soon!

            • *laughs* I do think it would! Now that would be gruesome.

              Not a Bace, those are horrid! Well, I didn’t mean to ignore Dickens…I’ll get through BH about the time you get through the Bible! I thought Schwarz was no 1!

            • And messy!

              Oh…yes…the Bible… Well, I think you should encourage me to get on with it! By giving regular reports on how you’re getting on with BH perhaps! (How’s Trillions going?) Tchah! You know fine well who no 1 is, sir!

            • Humph…I can think of better ways to encourage you to read it! If you want. (I hope to read more tonight, but so far, I like to death that he doesn’t write like Verne!) Yes, Darby.

            • *fearful yet brave face* Go on then! I was doing well for a while… and then I had a busy spell and never got back to it. I’m about half way through Deuteronomy – aren’t you proud? (I can’t really remember what Verne writes like, but I’m going to have to read Journey to the Centre soon… some publisher is sending me a new edition of it. Why do I agree to these things? *baffled face*) No, his brother…

            • My recommendation would be to read another book than Deuteronomy. That’s a book you should come back to later.

              Verne writes like a moose! *laughs* Rip Journey badly! Verne likes to get ripped. Darby’s brother is…the one that marry’s Jane, right?

            • Why? But if I read all the good bits first, I’ll never go back to the boring bits. And I’ve only got about another 1000 pages to go… *twitches nervously*

              Oh, dear! Well, you should read it for me then! That would be the gentlemanly thing to do. *nods decisively* No, no – that’s the serial killer! I was thinking of his long-lost brother the Professor…

            • Nah, you’re thinking on it wrong. The Bible is a historical book. You don’t need to read it all. Don’t think of it as something you must read, you know, you know…

              Me?! Will not never! I don’t know no fool named the professor, the sudden…

            • Well… OK, you’re the boss. What bits should I read then? Though I’ll probably keep working through it in order as well, anyway… slowly. I don’t – I feel I should read it, rather than must, if that makes any sense.

              Huh! Be like that then! See if I care! I do… *chortles*

            • Will do, boss! Why those?

              Unique! (Didn’t you notice my new widget, BTW, or did you preserve a tactful silence ‘cos you hate it? ‘Cos if you do, say so – it can be removed as quickly as it appeared…)

            • OK. *laughs* Maybe I’ll find out when I read them! Oh good, I’m glad! Yes, I liked the captain too…

              *laughs* It’s gone – I couldn’t take any more! I hate gifs really – I don’t know why I use them… but it was fun having a mini dancing you here for a day or two! *winks wickedly*

            • Well… I shouldn’t really tell you… but he meets up with an alien with a bobbing ponytail and it all becomes quite horrible… *shudders* Will do!

              *laughs apologetically* Somehow I couldn’t concentrate with you dancing away in the background… but the next time you’re wicked to me it might reappear…

            • Yeah, I think she’d look good under water… *ferocious frown*

              Oh, I don’t mind you playing in the background – in fact I quite like it! But the dancing just got me over-excited… *giggles*

  9. Loved the Lewis Trilogy which I came to relatively late and I still want to read the Ox Crimes which aside from the great selection of names I remember your particularly good review for… some great choices for June!

    • OxCrimes was a really good collection – hardly any weak ones in it. And I love the May books that are set in Scotland – I hope he does more! Yes, it appears that June has been a good reading month for me over the last few years. Welcome back – hope you had a lovely break! 🙂

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